British journalist and climate change agitator George Monbiot has written an interesting open letter to King Abdaullah of Saudi Arabia. He comments on the degree to which remaining oil supplies in Saudi Arabia are one of the biggest geopolitical mysteries out there, and how Saudi Arabia retains a unique influence to manage oil prices. He also comments on the contradictory policies of western leaders who both assert that they want to solve climate change and continue to envision a world in which oil is cheap and plentiful:
In other words, your restrictions on supply – voluntary or otherwise – are helping the government to meet its carbon targets. So how does it respond? By angrily demanding that you remove them so that we can keep driving and flying as much as we did before. Last week, Gordon Brown averred that it’s “a scandal that 40% of the oil is controlled by Opec, that their decisions can restrict the supply of oil to the rest of the world, and that at a time when oil is desperately needed, and supply needs to expand, that Opec can withhold supply from the market”. In the United States, legislators have gone further: the House of Representatives has voted to bring a lawsuit against Opec’s member states, and Democratic senators are trying to block arms sales to your kingdom unless you raise production.
This illustrates one of our leaders’ delusions. They claim to wish to restrict the demand for fossil fuels, in order to address both climate change and energy security. At the same time, to quote Britain’s Department for Business, they seek to “maximise economic recovery” from their remaining oil, gas and coal reserves. They persist in believing that both policies can be pursued at once, apparently unaware that if fossil fuels are extracted they will be burnt, however much they claim to wish to reduce consumption. The only states that appear to be imposing restrictions on the supply of fuel are the members of Opec, about which Brown so bitterly complains. Your Majesty, we have gone mad, and you alone can cure our affliction, by keeping your taps shut.
The letter is a somewhat cheeky way for Monbiot to make his points – appealing to the autocratic ruler of a foreign state to help temper the bad policies of his own government – but it does share the intriguing quality of most of his writing.
More and more, people need to gain an appreciation that concerns about climate change and energy security do not always push us in the same policy direction. Concern about climate change tells us to change our infrastructure, cut back on energy use, and use the energy we have more intelligently. Energy security often presses us towards a desperate search for alternative fuels, regardless of what environmental consequences their production may have.